Gear for a land/sea Alaskan cruise

Discussion in 'Travel' started by brent_mattox, Jun 1, 2017.

  1. Hi,

    We're taking an Alaskan cruise in August and I'm in a quandary as to what gear to take. The land portion of the cruise will require that we lug all our valuables with us during the day while the cruise line moves our other luggage from point to point. The dilemma is whether to take a heavy long zoom and lug it around or go with a shorter focal length that is lighter weight. I've never been on one of these cruises, so I don't know how close we will be to wildlife and other photo ops that would benefit from the long zoom. Current plans are to take a Nikon D5500, 18-200 DX zoom, and a 70-300 zoom. The IQ with these lenses is acceptable at medium focal lengths but deteriorates at the longest. I'm prepared to buy the Nikkor 200-500 (or possibly rent it), but it weighs nearly 5 pounds.

    Has anyone been on a similar trip who can offer some insight? Thanks.
  2. Tell us a little more about your trip - I assume you will depart on the cruise from Seattle or Vancouver and arrive near Anchorage (Seward or Whittier). Where will you go after that and for how long?

    When I cruised Alaska on an Anchorage to Vancouver route over 10 years ago, I found 200 mm to be quite adequate shooting (film) from the ship. A subsequent trip to Alaska was all land, the lens needs were very different.

    Are you going to Denali (it is gorgeous with fall color in the 2nd half of August)? Flightseeing anywhere? Taking any excursions from the ship?
  3. The land portion is first and we will start in Fairbanks and travel to Denali for a two day stop. The land portion also includes travel by riverboat and train. We have two flightseeing excursions planned - one in Denali and one by seaplane at one of our ports. We also have a whale watching excursion planned by boat. So there will be quite a variety of situations. The trip ends in Vancouver and we plan to stay an extra day to see what we can while there.
  4. OK, fly into Fairbanks, take the riverboat and then the train to Denali. Your 18-200 should suffice for this part.

    Denali: if you take a bus, either the Kantishna Shuttle (a school bus that takes literally all day) or a "tour" on a nicer bus for a 2-4 hour tour with a specific focus, that's when you'll find a 200-500 most valuable. You'll see wildlife in the park, and much of it will be at a distance, making the long lens very nice to have. When my wife and I went, I had the Nikon 80-400D on a DX body, and it wasn't long enough! But when wildlife is what you want to shoot, no lens is long enough.

    Flightseeing: you won't be able to maneuver a 200-500 inside the plane (even the 70-300 wouldn't work), so your 18-200 is the go-to lens for this. I recommend that you pick up a collapsible screw-in rubber lens hood that's relatively wide, and use it in place of the 18-200's hood while on the plane. Put the rubber hood in contact with the window glass (but don't press) to cut out interior reflections. Pressing too hard will transmit the engine vibrations into your photos.

    Whale watching - this,too, is where the 200-500 will prove valuable.

    If your 70-300 really disappoints at 300, then it will let you down on this trip, too. But it might just be enough and save you getting the 200-500 if you don't plan to get very far into Denali. 300 could be adequate on a whale watching tour (they are pretty good at finding the whales and getting fairly close - within the state laws - to allow some decent shots with a 300 on a DX body.

    Then again, do you have ambitions to get a 200-500 for future use? To get into shooting wildlife or sports in a bigger way than you have so far? Then getting one for the trip may be the right opportunity.

    When we cruised Alaska, I was shooting film, and I took a 28-200 lens. From the ship, 200 was adequate, so I think your 18-200 on the DX body will be quite satisfactory. If your activities in Denali won't really offer a lot of wildlife opportunity, I think your 70-300 on a crop body might be enough to keep you happy. But there's that question - are you looking for a longer lens for wildlife shooting after the cruise? This trip could be the justification to spend the money and get that 200-500.

    FYI: don't plan on taking a tripod to use on the ship. There won't be room for it on deck when the ship is near an attraction like Glacier Bay - everyone on board will be on deck vying for space at the railing on the same side of the boat. However, if you'd like some camera support, a monopod will work and won't bother other passengers. Just don't put it on the ship's deck - rest it on the top of your foot so that vibrations from the ship's engines won't ruin your shots. Also, once on board, ask one or more of the ship's photographers if there is a spot you can get to that's lower on the ship (closer to the water) for shooting places like Glacier Bay. You might luck into a secluded spot for viewing things.

    If you will be in Denali in the second half of August, the shrubbery that covers the valley and some mountain sides will have turned to fall colors - it's amazing to see. There are few aspens in the park, and only near the entrance. Further into the park there will only be fir trees, and they disappear about 15 miles in - the tree line is only 3,000 ft because of the subarctic climate. But the ground cover has a fall color season and it's beautiful.

    Have fun.
  5. When my wife and I were on our Alaskan land and sea tour, my longest lens for a Nikon crop sensor DSLR was a 300mm f4. We were on a small boat for our cruise. Even on a small boat, where we could get closer to wildlife than on the large cruise ships, I needed more focal length and used a 1.4x tc with it a lot. Same goes for the bus trip in Denali. If I were going again, I would buy the Nikon 200-500mm and take it. I would definitely take a good monopod with a good head for your long lens, for use on the Denali bus and the ship. I had a second body too. The lele was on one and the other body had a 70-200mm or a lens like the 24-85mm. You will not have time to change lenses and the weather may not permit it either. You will need GOOD rain covers for your camera and lenses as you will be taking pictures in harsh, windy and wet environments. Make sure your outer jacket is large enough to cover you and your cameras and lenses too. Most of the Denali bus trips are full and you will not be able to change your seat when photo ops change. You will have to figure out how to get a window seat.
  6. I'm inclined to buy the 200-500 and leave the 70-300 at home. That will help to offset the weight in my pack and the 18-200 and the 200-500 will cover the focal range perfectly. I also found a rubber lens hood for the 18-200.

    Thanks for all the great advice!
  7. If your main interest is rocks and ice (i.e., landscapes), a mid-range zoom will probably be your go-to lens. My choice would be an high quality lens in the 24-70 rang, either f/2.8 or f/4. The wide end of that lens is ample for in-town photos of buildings and streets. Lens number two would be a long zoom, like a 70-200, either f/4 for weight or f/2.8. A good prime lens for streets would be something close to 24 mm (I find 35 is not wide enough and 20 is too wide). When walking about, you don't want something long and heavy bumping into things. I have carried a "day bag" for a couple of lenses and supplies in addition to a backpack with a wider selection of gear. As dorky as it seems, I have migrated to using a photo vest with big inside pockets for one or two additional lenses (even a 70-200), extra batteries, wipes and memory cards. Even a small camera bag is too big to put inside a suitcase, constitutes your "second bag" for air travel. I'd rather carry a laptop than an empty camera bag in that role.

    You cannot use a tripod on board a ship. Period. Low frequency vibrations from the engine will blur shots even at high speeds. Do make use of image stabilization whenever possible. Also carry a tripod if you like to shoot stitched panoramas, which are a good way to go wide without including too much sky and dirt. Wildlife requires careful stalking and really long lenses, neither of which are practical on this type of vacation.

    I find I can carry a log of gear in a backpack in tight spaces, like a bus or train, and climb stairs and trails. Mine weighs abut 25 pounds, loaded, and is something I prefer to leave in the car or room unless I have a specific goal in mind.

    If you lust after a 200-500, go for it. Personally it's a heavy slow lens (f/5.6), not well suited for landscapes or wildlife. Better to use a tele-extender or two, even if you lose a little quality. If you want a portable, one-lens-does-everything, an 18-200 or 18-300 zoom has a lot of distortion, but great flexibility. I'll take a pass on the quality issue.
  8. On my Alaskan cruise I brought a Tamzooka 150-600 which I used frequently from the ship's deck. 200mm won't cut it. Here's a gallery containing some of those shots: Pacific northwest cruise - B.C and Alaska
  9. The last time I was in Alasak, I brought the older 80-400mm with a D200 and i thought I needed more reach.


Share This Page